09/09/2008 11:00PM

Defending champion a bit shaky


POMONA, Calif. - How much difference does a year make? That is the question Friday at Fairplex Park, where Kalookan Dancer seeks her second win in the $65,000 Pio Pico Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares.

But there is a problem. When she won the 6 1/2-furlong stakes last fall, Kalookan Dancer was the lone speed in razor-sharp form. This time around, she faces a wickedly fast rival in Overly Tempting, and Kalookan Dancer's condition is open to debate.

"She is still in top form," trainer Walther Solis said with conviction, and his confidence is surprising considering Kalookan Dancer finished fourth or worse in four of her last five starts and enters the Pio Pico off a last-place finish at Del Mar.

Solis said he believes Kalookan Dancer had valid excuses for her recent losses, and he expects her to return with a vengeance Friday against eight rivals.

Kalookan Dancer won 5 of 13 in 2007, but in her last two starts of the season she bled through Lasix and ran last.

"We stopped on her because she had a really hard year," Solis said.

Kalookan Dancer was dead short when she finished fourth in her comeback six months later. Then second start back at Solano, the old Kalookan Dancer showed up.

"She killed them in the Vacaville," Solis said, referring to a dominating front-running win.

At age 5, it looked like Kalookan Dancer was back. The celebration was short-lived, because Aug. 1 at Del Mar, she finished last again while changing strategy.

"There was so much speed that we tried to bring her from behind," Solis said.

It did not work. She faded after a half-mile. But then early this month, Solis shipped Kalookan Dancer to Fairplex, with immediate results.

"She loves this track," Solis said.

Kalookan Dancer's chances depend mostly on the expected tussle between her and the speedball on the rail, likely favorite Overly Tempting.

Overly Tempting adds blinkers, gets a four-pound weight break over Kalookan Dancer (123-119), and should set the pace. If jockey David Flores can separate Overly Tempting from her early rival, she can be gone.